by Jack Bechta
July 30, 02014
With the new CBA somewhat simplifying things, it really has taken a lot of the fun out of the business. At one time, negotiating contracts was an abstract business for the agent to be creative in constructing contracts, but much has been streamlined. Sure, the top players in the league have multiple layers in their contracts that require finesse and expertise from a seasoned agent. But after that the negotiation can get pretty vanilla, yet it does still leave enough room to be inventive for those players below the echelon of "top" billing.
1) All 32 teams are reading from the same script: For years, the NFLPA has accused the NFL for illegally colluding on contracts (terms, signing bonus language, structure). If you talk to the agents, we will tell you, there aren’t 32 different styles of doing business as there once was. If definitely seems that GMs and salary cap mangers have been schooled, and well, at the exact same school using the same philosophy. The result; player contracts are getting shorter, guaranteed language is getting more complicated, and patterns of how and when deals get done are consistent around the league.
2) Draft is more tightly slotted, less tools to work with in constructing contracts: Under previous CBAs, there were multiple tools agents and teams used to allocate bonuses within a rookie contract and create more money. Now the battle lay within the structure of the money rather than with the amounts themselves (predetermined). In addition, rookie deals cannot be renegotiated until after a players 3rd year (see Russell Wilson). The length/term of deal is now fixed.
Under the last CBA, we could negotiate how long the deal would go. The previous CBA language specified maximum term limits rather than set terms. I for one used to do four-year deals for my 2nd rounders and three-year deals for my 3rd rounders and lower. In doing shorter deals, I took a little less of a signing bonus than those who did five year deals but got my clients to free agency sooner. Client Jonathan Babineaux is a good example. He’s a client who landed his 3rd NFL contract this year at age 32.
Now every draft pick is given a four year contract. The exception being first round picks with a team option for a fifth year (Fifth Year Option). Undrafted free agents are given three year contracts.
3) More concierge services: Derivative services outside of contract negotiations and marketing took a huge jump about ten years ago. Agents who may have never negotiated a contract before became really good at teeing up some freebies for players. Free phones, calling plans, hotels, flights, tech products, use of cars, Vegas trips, clothes, sports equipment and/or concert tickets. Many of these are just inducements to sign with said agent but it’s common place for all agencies to offer some level of concierge services.
4) Social media coaching, counsel, management and/or clean up: The advent of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook put the power of the media in the hands of the players. Many players, with or without a plan, have been using these tools to talk with their fans, start controversy, voice their opinions, start arguments with other players and/or promote their brand or charitable affiliates. Agents quickly had to become proficient and learn how to help players manage their social ambitions.
5) Doing more back end management on medical, lawsuits, etc: With the new CBA came some additional benefits like the cognitive injury benefit. Agents have more work to do on the back end of a player's career. In addition, with players having more latitude on choosing a second opinion doctor and less pressure on them getting back on the field, agents are even more involved in the setting up, researching and scheduling of medical services for our clients. This is actually a good thing for players with agents who understand the importance of managing the medical component of the business. Knowing when and how to get the most from a player's benefits and firmly exercising their rights can help set a player up for life.
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